Jonathan HaslamAug 12, 2021
The Spectre of War
International Communism and the Origins of World War II
Princeton University Press 2021
The Spectre of War: International Communism and the Origins of World War II (Princeton UP, 2021), looks at a subject we thought we knew—the roots of the Second World War—and upends our assumptions with a new interpretation. Professor Jonathan Haslam, in the words of historian, Geoffrey Roberts, “the doyen of Soviet Diplomatic History”, looks at the neglected thread connecting them all: the fear of Communism prevalent across continents during the inter-war period. Marshalling an array of archival sources, including records from the Communist International, Professor Haslam seeks to transform our understanding of the deep-seated origins of World War II, its conflicts, and its legacy.
In Haslam’s interpretation fascism’s emergence in conjunction with the impact of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, helped to upend the existing world order. World War I had economically destabilized many nations, and the threat of Communist revolt loomed large in the ensuing social unrest. As Moscow supported Communist efforts in France, Spain, China, and beyond, opponents such as the British feared for the stability of their global empire, and viewed fascism as the only force standing between them and the Communist overthrow of the existing order. The appeasement and political misreading of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy that followed held back the spectre of rebellion—only to usher in the later advent of war.
Illuminating ideological differences in the decades before World War II, and the continuous role of pre- and postwar Communism, The Spectre of War provides unprecedented context for one of the most momentous calamities of the twentieth century. While not everyone will agree with his thesis and his overall interpretation of Soviet foreign policy in the inter-war period, Professor Haslam has written a book that will be required reading for anyone seriously interested in the period covered by the book.
Charles Coutinho Ph. D. of the Royal Historical Society, received his doctorate from New York University. His area of specialization is 19th and 20th-century European, American diplomatic and political history. He has written for Chatham House’s International Affairs, the Institute of Historical Research's Reviews in History and the University of Rouen's online periodical Cercles.